One with pure heart whose bare foot touches the golden marigold gains the power to understand the language of birds, or so the Breton legend goes. Mythical gifts aside, marigolds (Tagetes spp.) grace the garden all summer long. The genus includes easily maintained annuals and a few tough perennials, most tracing their ancestry to the Americas. All propagate readily from seeds, and some root from cuttings.
The golden, sun-loving flower that the word "marigold" brings to mind is only one of the many incarnations of the plant. African marigolds (Tagetes erecta) can rise to 4 feet high and decorate the garden in orange and white in addition to classic yellow. The large blossoms grow to 4 inches across. Gardeners plant African marigold seeds in well-drained soil that receives direct sunlight and light, afternoon shade in hot climates. Get the benefit of a full summer's bloom by starting the seeds indoors several months before the last frost. Many tall varieties require a wind-protected planting site as well as staking.
The French marigold (Tagetes patula) is native to Mexico and Guatamala. These are the familiar compact annuals that grow no taller than 1 foot and have flowers in shades of yellow and orange. Many varieties exist, including plants with single, semi-double, double or crested flowers. The blossoms are smaller than African marigolds' blooms, no larger than 2 inches in diameter. These marigolds also propagate from seeds sown in early spring.
Mexican tarragon (Tagetes lucida), a perennial marigold native to Mexico, is hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 through 11. It grows into a bush 3 feet tall and wide. Its flowers, in colors like glints of sunshine, arrive in late summer and stay through fall. The narrow leaves hold aromatic oils with a tarragon, or anise, flavor and can be used in cooking. This perennial propagates by seeds or by basal cuttings taken in spring. When taking cuttings, it is essential to take as much underground stem as possible from young shoots. Allow the cuttings to root for two to three weeks in sandy soil in a pot with drain holes. Keep the soil moist and the pot in the shade until the cuttings root.
Marigold seeds require sunlight to germinate. They should be lightly sprinkled on well-worked, loamy soil and barely covered with soil or sand. If the seeds are sown in containers, use pots with drain holes to allow water to drain. A fine spray or watering device is required for irrigation to prevent the seeds from washing away. The soil must be moist at all times for the seeds to germinate.